• 25Dec

    Season’s Greetings!

    We’re in Cape Town with our families for Christmas and New Year’s, but before we left we managed to sneak a pic with Mount Frere’s  only Santa Claus. The best part is we recognised Santa’s helper here as our friend Oscar, an orphan who we’ve spent a lot of time with this year as he prepared his university applications.

    Mount Frere Santa

    Mount Frere Santa

    Anyway, happy holidays to everyone at home. We’re thinking of you. Cape Town is fantastic – we’ll have more photos and posts about that in due time. For me the best thing is having a washing machine!!!

  • 15Dec

    Funder Visit Part Three – The Stories

    This post is the last of three describing a visit we made to a drop in center. Part One, Part Two.

    The Village Health Workers
    There were about five village health workers (VHWs) there. They told us how their training has changed their lives – for example the social work training showed them the need to care for everyone in their community, not just their family members.

    Doris told how she lives with six orphans and cooks for many more. Her permaculture garden is thriving and she has five HIV+ patients who are all on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).

    Two Village Health Workers

    Two Village Health Workers

    Beatrice has helped the child-headed families and orphans in her area to get the social grants they are entitled to.

    Another VHW cooks for 15 orphans and vulnerable children at the local preschool and another nine older children in the area. I’ve met her before – she lives with five young grandchildren in a cramped mud-brick home, yet she still finds the time and energy to help others.

    The People Living With AIDS
    One man, who looked around 35 or so, stood to say he is sick (HIV+) and Leticia has helped him by taking him to the clinic and providing him with food from her garden. He was grateful for all the help she gives him.

    Another man stood to say he could barely talk about his situation, but Leticia’s health care was very important to him. Tears welled as he told us he was sick – we learned as he sat down that he has only just learned he is HIV positive. We told him that with good nutrition and health care, and with proper use of ARVs, he would be able to live a long life. We told the men that many people in the US and UK are living with AIDS and that they are not getting sick thanks to ARVs. Often people here are surprised to learn that people in developed countries have HIV/AIDS and we always try to explain that it is a disease like many others and needs to be treated not stigmatized.

    A young woman told us outright that she is HIV+. She was being very brave – most people here will not admit their status like that. She told us how she had gone to the clinic with Leticia, but her CD4 count was too high (at 54) to qualify for ARV treatment at the time. Leticia has been providing her with vegetables and she is helping in the garden and with cooking for the children. Thanks to the improvement in nutrition and general welfare her CD4 count is now over 200 and she feels fit and strong. She said that if not for Leticia, she would be in the ground by now.

    The Children and Elderly
    A boy of 16 from a child-headed family told us about how Leticia has helped him with food parcels and vegetables from her garden. He has been helping her in the garden and was so inspired that he started his own. Hlomelikusasa has provided him with a fence, some tools, and soon he will receive full permaculture training from us. He told us later that he wants to become a pilot.

    Child-Headed Family Garden

    Child-Headed Family Garden

    One girl came to thank us for the nutrition and help with her school uniform. She reminded us that she will need a new uniform next year when she starts high school! She had written a touching note to Priscilla and showed us the memory box she has with photos of her parents inside.

    Another girl thanked us for the nutrition and care she receives at Leticia’s, and also mentioned having enjoyed the art workshop Alex and I did with her last month.

    One woman stood to thank Leticia for her help with the elderly. She broke down as she described her elderly mother, who is often left alone at home. She said she sees Leticia visiting her mother and taking vegetables to her, even though she was never asked to do so. She was overcome with tears. I felt emotional myself, looking around at the inspiring and friendly faces. I started to feel a pang that I’m going to leave this behind next year when we go home. It feels a lot like how we felt when we left New York in July.

    Heres a gogo who came around to see what all the fuss was about

    Here's a gogo who came around to see what all the fuss was about

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  • 13Dec

    Incredible Mount Frere sunset

    Last night I looked out the window and I thought someone was holding a sheet of orange construction paper to the window or something. I couldn’t believe that was the actual color of the sky! Andy and I took a walk in the rain, marveling at the breathtakingly surreal sight. The pictures barely do it justice. Tonight there was a crazy insane rainstorm, but we didn’t get any good pics. The lightning & thunder were fantastic, though.

    Across the street from our flat.

    Across the street from our flat.

    View from our kitchen window.

    View from our kitchen window.

    And last but not least, the latest addition to our bug-spotting obsession. We found a praying mantis on the kitchen counter the other day. How cool is that!

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  • 12Dec

    Sports day with S.C.O.R.E!

    There’s a Norwegian girl named Ina who is here in MF with a program called S.C.O.R.E., which is a South African NGO doing community development through sports, specifically soccer. I think sometimes it’s a little hard for her to make any headway because people can be so disorganized. She’s been stuck trying to “make it happen” at the same school that we had the most trouble. The principal and his head deputy are quite useless and Ina was getting as frustrated as we were, so a few weekends ago we decided to take matters into our own hands! Fikiswa and I organized a ‘Play Day’ with several OVC in a village near Mount Frere and we headed out early Saturday morning with Ina’s soccer, foot, tennis, and hand balls (I brought art supplies, but never ended up taking them out of the truck).

    It got a bit repetitive playing catch for 3 hours straight, but the kids loved it.

    Andy got a soccer game going, and made a lot of friends every time he headbutted the soccer ball. A couple of the kids were really good, including one boy who totally schooled everyone else w/ no shoes on!

    Most of the girls played handball, and the younger kids stuck to playing catch.

    Even the village health workers got into it! They were wrapped in blankets because it was a cold day, but they hiked their blankets up and tossed the ball around like pros.

    Toward the end, a couple of drunks showed up (that happens almost every time we go on a location visit) and stole one of Ina’s soccer balls, which was a bit of a buzz kill. Didn’t they have anything better to do than hang around the school playground on a Saturday morning? Apparently not, considering they were smashed by 11AM. Unfortunately we see that a lot.

    After a few hours everyone was exhausted. We all had a few spins on the roundabout,

    and then we finished the day with a song that Ina taught us. Repeat after me (sung to the tune of ‘frere jaque’):

    Ina leading the group in the Fruit Salad song.

    “Wa-ter-me-lon” (wave your arms in a 1/2 circle)

    “Pine-ap-ple” (pat your hands around the shape of a giant pineapple)

    “Ba-na-na Ba-nana” (kick your feet in front of you)

    “Fruit Sa-lad, Fruit Sa-lad” (hands on hips, shake your hips)

    Not only did everyone LOVE the warm-up / cool-down dance, but there was one village health worker, Nomsa, who thought it was so funny that now she does the “Wa-ter-mel-on” dance every time I see her! She doesn’t speak much English, so that has become our form of communication. It’s hilarious.

    Viva Sports Day!!!!!!

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  • 03Dec

    Funder Visit Part Two: Elation

    This is part two of a three-part post. Part One, Part Three

    On Saturday, having triple-confirmed the visit, we drove out to Njijini to visit Leticia’s drop-in centre. That’s the same place Alex and I went to a month ago to do art with the children (a post about that is pending!). Leticia is on the executive committee of Hlomelikusasa and has one of the finest gardens around. Her drop-in center feeds about twenty orphans and vulnerable children; she also provides health services to elderly and HIV+ people in her area; and takes Hlomelikusasa food parcels to child-headed families. She has just finished building (with her own labour and money) a new dining room for the children to be able to sit at a table and eat (until now they have sat on the kitchen floor, which is the same of most drop-in centres.)

    A sangoma singing and dancing

    A sangoma singing and dancing

    As we arrived, we could tell that the day was going to be very different: we were greeted by Beatrice, a village health worker from near by, rushing down the track and ululating loudly! Behind Beatrice came children, more VHWs and three sangomas – local traditional healers (some would say witch doctor, although the sangomas are more into herbalism and Xhosa culture than magic). Immediately, the sangomas were singing and dancing. Everyone came to welcome each of us individually – lots of hand shaking and asking “njani?”… it was bewildering and joyful.

    We moved into Leticia’s living room – somehow about twenty-five adults found seats – and introductions were made. I was thrilled to be non-introduced, since most of the VHWs already know us. I was mentioned as “Andy, he stays with us,” meaning “lives with us.” Formalities over, we heard the stories of almost everyone there.

    Boniswa, the founder of Hlomelikusasa, with sangomas

    Boniswa (in purple), the founder of Hlomelikusasa, with sangomas

    In between each story, the whole room was filled with singing and clapping. Usually this starts with the next person to speak, who launches into song as they stand up. Everyone else joins them for the second line as they make their way to the front. On two occasions the meeting was suspended as the sangomas sang and danced for a few minutes. At one point Leticia brought in a big drum to accompany them.

    The new dining room / drop-in center. Its made out of mud bricks.

    The new dining room / drop-in centre. It's made out of mud bricks.

    After the stories, we broke for lunch (samp and beans, of course) since the children were getting restless outside. I spoke to many people and watched more singing and dancing.

    I danced with the sangomas. They have soooo much energy! (I think its the tea they drink all the time)

    I danced with the sangomas. They have soooo much energy! (I think it's the 'tea' they drink all the time)

    Leticia with some of the people who benefit from her drop-in centre.

    Leticia with some of the people who benefit from her drop-in centre.

    Pictures courtesy of Priscilla Higham, since Alex had our camera with her in Cape Town.

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  • 01Dec

    Funder Visit Part One: Disappointment

    This week we had a visit from the Monument Trust, one of ASAP’s biggest funders at the moment. On Friday we made some disappointing visits. First, to a local school, where the deputy principal was drunk (at 10am!), the kids weren’t in classes and the principal told us he wants to put weedkiller on the permaculture garden.

    School garden at work

    School garden at work

    We then trucked out on a dirt road for over an hour. We visited a village health worker’s (VHW’s) garden which was doing rather well – she has an amazing view over the flattest soccer pitch I’ve seen here onto rolling green mountains. My favourite sight was watching her pig wallow in the puddle beneath her water tank, but there were also plenty of vegetables and potatoes in the garden.

    Our final stop for the day was even further away from town, at a drop-in centre and garden run by Princess. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving the dirt road and bouncing along a muddy track to her house, we received a call from the office in Mount Frere telling us that Princess was there, and had come to confirm the visit was happening the following day. It stemmed from a significant miscommunication, I presume, and everyone was gutted to hear it. We glanced around her garden but since there were no children being cooked for or other people to speak to, we rode back to town in disillusionment.

    Princess' garden

    Deep permaculture ditches, or 'swales,' in Princess' garden.

    Part Two, Part Three.

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